Fordham Responds on Nationalizing Education

Over at Flypaper, Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee responds to my post yesterday about the mistake of the current Gates-Fordham-AFT-USDOE effort to nationalize key aspects of our education system.  She writes:

Of course, many people agree that Betamax had the superior technology (the picture was sharper, the cassettes were smaller, it was better at high-speed duplication, etc.). So, in effect, market forces standardized the inferior technology.

But rather than belabor the VHS-Betamax analogy, let’s talk about the actual case of state standards. Is Greene correct in his contention that the market was on its way to standardizing high-quality state standards? Not even close.

In fact, for more than a decade we have been conducting a natural experiment where we let market forces drive standards setting at the state level. The result? A swift and sure race to the bottom. A majority of states had failed to set rigorous standards for their students—and had failed to create effective assessments that could be used to track student mastery of that content. In fact, the whole impetus behind the Common Core State Standards Initiative was to address what was essentially a market failure in education.

That said, I do agree with Greene that too much government intervention will stifle innovation. That’s precisely why I think government “standardization” should begin and end with standards. Let the government define what students should know and be able to do.  Then let market forces determine which curricula and pedagogy will best help students master that essential content.

To which Ze’ev Wurman replies:

I have a lot of respect for Kathleen and hence I am stumped.

She writes that the results of the NCLB’s “natural experiment” with states setting their standards are clear: “A swift and sure race to the bottom.”

Yet just a few years back no other than the Fordham Institute itself examined this exact issue,the behavior of proficiency standards under NCLB, and declared:

“These trends do not indicate a helter-skelter ‘race to the bottom.’ They rather suggest more of a walk to the middle.”

Perhaps Kathleen meant to write about the rigor of content standards rather thanproficiency standards. But there, too, many states have improved their standards, rather than lowering them. This can be clearly visible in — yet again — Fordham’s own recent “State of the Standards” report that shows that in 2010, 27 state ELA standards were graded worse than in 2005 and 11 improved (with 12 grades unchanged). In math only 10 state standards were graded worse and 29 improved, with 11 graded the same. I might add that grading criteria in 2010 were more demanding than in 2005 as can be clearly seen from Massachusetts’ standards that did not change between 2005 and 2010, yet were graded lower in 2010 than in 2005. In other words, by Fordham’s own analysis — of which Kathleen must be aware as she co-authored it — state content standards have improved somewhat over the years.

So which one is it? Is there a race to the bottom, or isn’t there? Based on Fordham’s own research there was an improvement in content standards and no race to the bottom in proficiency standards. Yet Kathleen is unequivocal in claiming a race to the bottom. Is it a simple error, or has Fordham started to twist its own findings in its push to support national standards?

And I add:

In addition to the misleading claim of “race to the bottom” that Ze’ev notes, Kathleen’s post is in error on two other points:

1) VHS was not the “inferior technology.” It was cheaper, had longer tapes, and the market clearly preferred those things over whatever qualities Betamax possessed. Kathleen’s conviction that she and some central government-backed committee of like-minded people know what is best for the country regardless of what the market says is precisely the problem with the Gates-Fordham-AFT-USDOE effort to nationalize key aspects of education policy.

2) The claim that Kathleen and Fordham want no more than to nationalize standards without touching curriculum, pedagogy, or assessment is simply disingenuous. For example, Checker once again made common cause with the AFT, Linda Darling-Hammond, etc… in backing the Shanker Manifesto, which calls for “Developing one or more sets of curriculum guides that map out the core content students need to master the new Common Core State Standards.” Checker may claim that this effort is purely voluntary, but that would only be credible if he and Fordham clearly and forcefully opposed any effort by the national government to “incentivize,” push, prod, or otherwise require the adoption of national curriculum based on the already incentivized national standards. And of course, USDOE (without any opposition from Fordham that I have noticed) is already moving forward with developing national assessments even before national curriculum has been developed. One does not need to be from one of “the more feverish corners of the blogosphere” to recognize the odd coalition of Gates-Fordham-AFT-USDOE as coordinating an effort to nationalize key aspects of our education system.

11 Responses to Fordham Responds on Nationalizing Education

  1. Erik Syring says:

    I don’t know how anyone can claim that any significant percentage of consumers (students/parents) have had the opportunity, so far, to experience a standards/curriculum market.

  2. Let me be clear — I do not think we have anything like an efficient market on standards and curriculum. But even the existing weak market among states is better than one national mandate.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Just recently I noted Fordham saying this:

    We still favor the Common Core effort and the trade-off of results-based accountability in return for operational freedom. (We also favor the development of high-quality curricular materials that help teachers handle the Common Core.) But it’s time to ask whether the move to high-stakes interim assessments will make that trade-off untenable.

    I commented:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Fordham position now appears to be:

    o A single national standard is OK.
    o A single national curriculum is OK.
    o A single national assessment test at the end of each year is OK.
    o Attaching “high stakes” to that single national test is OK.
    o Having the federal government fund and “co-ordinate” all the above is OK.
    o But if you give the national high-stakes test more than one time per year, THE WORLD IS ENDING and the whole package of national standards/curricula/assessments may need to be called off entirely!

  4. Daniel Earley says:

    Allow me to translate:

    “That said, I do agree with Greene that too much government force will stifle innovation. That’s precisely why I think forceful “standardization” should begin and end with standards. Let government dictate what students should think, believe and be able to do. Then let providers comply by determining which curricula and pedagogy will best help students master that forced content to shape society.”

    Alas, the impatient adolescent temptation to leverage the fixing of societal ills with centralized efficiency raises its historic, ancient head yet again. Surely it will end better this time. Liberty is just too slow.

  5. jacob says:

    The market prefers big macs to arugala, but that doesn’t make them healthier. Sometimes people make bad choices.

  6. I agree, Jacob, but sometimes petty little dictators compel people to make even worse choices. We don’t prefer liberty because we think people will always make good choices with it. We prefer liberty, in part, because we think people are more likely to make better choices for themselves than will others on their behalf.

  7. Greg Forster says:

    It’s false to say the market “prefers” Big Macs to arugala. There’s a large market for Big Macs, and a large market for arugala as well. It’s not really meaningful to measure how much money is spent on one and the other and then say the market “prefers” this over that. The market is a mechanism that allows us to balance competing imperatives and thus produce *both* in an economically sustainable way.

    Another way of approaching this would be to ask: sure arugala is healthier, but is “healthy” the only issue that matters, or are we also allowed to measure other outcomes as well? And who gets to decide which outcomes, and which measurements of those outcomes, will control production?

    Frankly, if I had to eat either nothing but Big Macs or nothing but arugala, I’d go for Bic Macs all day long. But thank goodness that, because of a free market, we have a choice and can enjoy both!

  8. […] the last few days Jay Greene, the Fordham Institute’s Kathleen Porter-Magee, and several other edu-thinkers have […]

  9. […] day they might go along with it, only to renounce it as a joke later — but Jay Greene’s recent exchange with the Fordham folks reminded me of my call a few weeks ago: Fordham and other national standards supporters […]

  10. […] the last few days Jay Greene, the Fordham Institute's Kathleen Porter-Magee, and several other edu-thinkers have […]

  11. […] the one day they might go along with it, only to renounce it as a joke later — but Jay Greene's recent exchange with the Fordham folks reminded me of my call a few weeks ago: Fordham and other national standards supporters […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: